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Full text of "The History Of Western Education"

306        HISTORY OF WESTERN EDUCATION

and social questions. He agrees with La Chalotais that education
is a matter of public concern, but he deprecates any interference
with the education of the upper and middle classes, maintaining
that they can safely be trusted to educate themselves. The only
people who need help, in his opinion, are the common people,
whose occupations tend to deaden the intelligence without which
no man can be a proper human being. In their case he would
insist on a minimum of instruction in reading, writing, and
accounts, as well as in geometry and mechanics. " For a very
small expense, the public can facilitate, can encourage, and can
even impose on the whole body of the people, the necessity of
acquiring these most essential parts of education." " The public,"
he adds, significantly repeating a term which, though not excluding
the State, leaves open the possibility of other educational
authorities concerning themselves with the matter, " can facilitate
their acquisition by establishing in every parish or district a little
school, where children may be taught for a reward so moderate
that even a common labourer can afford it.'3 The only compulsion
he contemplates is that which would be indirectly applied by the
institution of public examinations as a condition of entrance to
" any trade in a village or town corporate.''

The kind of education that Smith had evidently in his mind was
one like the parish school system of his native Scotland, the main
difference—expressed only by implication—being the substitution
of " the public " for the Church as controlling authority. English
people in general, even when recognizing the need for popular
education, were not prepared to go quite so far. The nearest
approach to a national provision of elementary education was that
made by the schools of Lancaster and Bell. In 1798, Joseph
Lancaster (1778-1838), a youth of twenty, opened a school for
poor children in London with a hundred pupils. By setting those
pupils who had learned a little to teach it to those more ignorant
than themselves, he was soon able to increase the number to a
thousand. This plan of mutual instruction met with the most
favourable reception from the public, and subscriptions for the
establishment of similar schools flowed in freely from the royal
family, the nobility and the gentry. But no sooner was the scheme
under way than sectarian difficulties arose. Zealous members of
the Church of England began to object to the fact that the religious
instruction given in Lancaster's schools excluded everything